No Rule is Our Rule

Eiko Otake

2021 | 01:13:18 | China / United States | Chinese, English | Color | Stereo | 16:9 | Video

Collection: Eiko Otake, Single Titles

Tags: Artist Spaces, Documentation, Eiko Otake: The Duet Project, Distance is Malleable, Eiko Otake: Virtual Studio, Memory, Performance

This is a story of friendship between two independent female artists and their body memories each willingly carry. In January 2020, New York based, interdisciplinary performing artist Eiko Otake arrived in Beijing to visit Wen Hui, a Chinese choreographer and filmmaker. Eight years apart, Eiko grew up in postwar Japan and Wen during the Cultural Revolution. They planned to visit each other for a month to converse and collaborate. The surge of COVID-19 abruptly cut off Eiko's visit and the pandemic has made Wen's visit to the USA impossible but the collaboration continued. Looking back on the video diaries they shot without a script, Eiko and Wen continued their dialogue on Zoom, sharing past works that form a deeper understanding of their circumstantial differences and characteristic similarities. Chinese film director Yiru Chen, once Eiko’s student, joined the team as a co-editor.

"On January 3, 2020, I flew to Beijing to visit dance and media artist Wen Hui for a month as part of an artist fellowship funded by the Asian Cultural Council. Little did we know that China would be where the first cases of COVID-19 were identified, soon to become the worst pandemic in recent history. The fellowship was generous in that it did not oblige us to create a product. It only asked two artists, one in China and one in the U.S., to spend a month in each other's country. 

Prior to this trip, I had only been to China in Guangdong for two weeks in 1995. China’s first international theater festival invited me and Koma as well as Wen Hui and her ex-partner Wu Wenguang. We saw and liked each other's work then and more so again when they were in the U.S. It so happened that Wen Hui and I started to work independently from our partners several years ago. To visit each other for a month was not an easy task, but we both made an effort to clear our schedules to see what might happen. We decided that I would be in China throughout January and Wen Hui would be in the U.S. throughout August. No rule was our rule.

Fast forward, the surge of coronavirus obliged us to abruptly shorten my trip by five days, and the pandemic made it impossible for her to come to the U.S. We then decided to meet over Zoom as frequently as possible and look at our footage together. By doing so, we recalled our time in China and continued our conversation and began editing videos.

These videos were not shot with a clear plan. But looking at them one by one, we saw a possibility to edit them together to create our video diary, which reveals how our friendship grew, how I presented my work in China, and how candidly two independent artists converse on a wide range of topics. We joked that our age difference of eight years, once significant when younger, is now much less. In fact, in the contemporary performance art field in China, Wen Hui is regarded as a historical figure. So it was liberating for us to talk without any professional frame or objectives. Our friendship and mutual respect transformed into a kind of sisterhood with a deep understanding of our differences. Though very active in the international performance scene, Wen Hui is firm in staying in China despite the hardships. I left Japan at the age of 20 and have lived in New York as an immigrant artist. But our values and desires seem surprisingly similar. We both embrace technology in particular ways. We shy away from overt technology, fast pace, and cleanness. We delve into raw material and hard history. We like to get physically dirty. We are opinionated and love working. Especially after this trip, I realize and respect that Wen Hui has had to work much harder to become who she is. In comparison, it has been much easier for me to voice my opinions in relative freedom. I have begun to question if I have used my potential fully and sincerely."

– Eiko Otake

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